UK and Singapore explore digital trade agreement

Britain and Singapore are set to begin negotiations on a new digital trade agreement.

The government claims the deal could remove barriers to digital trade with Singapore and enable UK exporters to expand into high-tech markets.

International trade secretary Liz Truss and the Singaporean minister in charge of trade relations Mr S. Iswaran are set to meet by video call.

Singapore’s GDP is estimated at over $379 billion and its population at 5,770,040, giving it one of the largest economies in the world per person.

The UK delivered digital services to Singapore worth £3.2 billion in 2019 according to government statistics - 70 per cent of UK services export to the region – including financial and legal services, music streaming, and e-books.

The government claim the deal will help cut red tape and ensure companies can trade more efficiently through digital technology such as electronic transactions, e-signatures, and e-contracts.

Negotiations will also focus on sectors like FinTech and LawTech, which the government has earmarked as growth sectors, and on collaborating with Singapore to strengthen collective cybersecurity capabilities and national security.

Talks will also touch on ensuring free and trusted cross-border data flows while upholding personal data protection standards, as well as upholding consumer rights and protecting businesses’ intellectual property like source code and cryptography.

In 2020, the UK’s exports of goods and services totalled £578 billion while imports totalled £586 billion.

Countries outside the EU accounted for 58 per cent of UK exports of goods and services and 50 per cent of imports in 2020.

The news comes after Dominic Raab travelled to Vietnam last week to begin negotiations regarding a free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region.

“A cutting-edge deal with Singapore will keep us at the forefront of the technological revolution, ensuring we lead the way in digitally delivered trade and industries like FinTech and cybersecurity,” said international trade secretary Liz Truss. “We are already the second largest services exporter in the world, with a huge comparative advantage in this area that we intend to capitalise on.”

“The UK will be the first European country to ever negotiate a Digital Economy Agreement, which shows what we can do as a sovereign trading nation. We are becoming more flexible, more nimble and less defensive in our approach to trade.”

She added: “Our ambition is to make the UK a global hub for services and digital trade, by striking a series of advanced, high-standards agreements with leading nations across the world that drive productivity, jobs, and growth across the UK.”

Miles Celic, chief executive officer at TheCityUK, said: “As leading international financial centres and data hubs, there are tremendous opportunities to be gained from the UK and Singapore working together on digital trade issues that support and supercharge innovation,” “Working with like-minded countries like Singapore presents a real opportunity to develop a best-in-class digital agreement.”

The chief exec said digital restrictions are among the fastest-growing trade barriers and that while more than 50 per cent of trade in services are facilitated by digital exchange, restrictions on digital trade doubled in the decade leading up to 2019.

“To ensure the future of open global services trade, it’s essential that new agreements support the flow of data across borders. The UK should strive to set clear ground rules for digital trade and build an open and robust framework for future digital trade and technological cooperation,” Celic added. “Such a framework can then become a template for other key markets, aiding the free flow of data and preventing unnecessary market fragmentation.”

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